|"It was written by Morgenes, and the subject of the note was you, my friend. It told to the reader—who should have been my master—that you would be in danger, and traveling alone from the Hayholt toward Naglimund. It asked my master to be helping you—without your knowing, if such was possible. It said a few things more."
Simon was riveted; this was a missing part of his own story. "What other things?" he asked.
"Things only for my master's eyes." Binabik's tone was kindly, but firm. "Now, it needs no saying that here was a difference. My master was asked a favor by his old friend... but only I could do that favor. This was also difficult, but from the moment I read Morgenes' note, I knew I must fulfill his request. I set out that day before evening toward Erchester."
The note said I would be traveling alone. Morgenes never thought he would escape. Simon felt tears coming, and covered the effort of suppressing them with a question.
"How were you supposed to find me?"
Binabik smiled. "By the use of Qanuc hard work, friend Simon. I had to pick up your trail—the signs of passing of a young man, no •set destination, things of this kind. Qanuc hard work and a largeness of luck led me to you."
A memory flared in Simon's heart, gray and fearful even in distant retrospect. "Did you follow me across the lich-yard? The one outside the city walls?" It had not all been dream, he knew. Something had called his name.
The troll's round face, however, was unreassuringly blank. "No, Simon," he said carefully, thinking. "I was not discovering your track until, I think, upon the Old Forest Road. Why?"
"It's not important." Simon rose and stretched, looking around the damp flatland. He sat again, and reached for the waterskin. "Well, I guess I understand, now... but I have much to think about. It seems we should continue to Naglimund, I suppose. What do you think?"
Binabik looked troubled. "I am not sure, Simon. If the Bukken are active in the Frostmarch, the road to Naglimund-keep will be too dangerous for a pair of travelers alone. I must admit I am much worried about what to do now. I am wishing we had your Doctor Morgenes here to advise us. Are you in so much peril, Simon, that we could not risk even a message to him somehow? I am not thinking he wants me to take you through such terrible dangers."
It took a moment for Simon to realize that the "he" Binabik was talking about was still Morgenes. A second later the astonishing realization struck: the troll did not know what had happened.
"Binabik," he began, and even as he spoke he felt he was inflicting a kind of wound, "he's dead. Doctor Morgenes is dead."
The little man's eyes flared wide for a moment, the white around the brown visible for the first time. An instant later Binabik's expression froze in a dispassionate mask.
"Dead?" he said at last, his voice so cold that Simon felt a strange defensiveness, as though it was somehow his fault—he, who had cried so many tears over the doctor!
"Yes." Simon considered for a moment, then took a calculated risk. "He died getting Prince Josua and me out of the castle. King Elias killed him—well, he had his man Pryrates do it, anyway."
Binabik stared into Simon's eyes, then looked down. "I had knowledge of Josua's captivity. In the letter it was mentioned. The rest is... tidings that are very bad." He stood, and the wind plucked at his straight black hair. "Let me walk now, Simon. I must think what these things are meaning... I must think…"
His face still emotionless, the little man stepped away from the clutch of rocks. Qantaqa immediately leaped up to follow, and Binabik started to shoo her off, then shrugged. She circled him in wide, lazy arcs as he moved slowly away, head bowed and small hands hidden in his sleeves. Simon thought he looked far too small for the burdens that he carried.
Simon was half-hoping that when the troll returned he might be carrying a fat wood pigeon or something similar. In this he was disappointed.
"I am sorry, Simon," the little man said, "but it would have been of small use anyway. We cannot have a smokeless fire with nothing around but wet brush, and a smoke-beacon I do not think is good at the moment. Have some dried fish."
The fish, itself in short supply, was neither filling nor tasty, but Simon chewed morosely at his piece: who knew when he would next get a meal on this miserable adventure?
"I have been thinking, Simon. Your news, with no fault of yours, is hurtful. So soon after my master's death, to hear of the ending of the doctor, that good old man..." Binabik trailed on, then bent and began shoving things back into his pack, after first separating out several articles.
"These are your things—see, I was saving them for you." He handed Simon the two familiar cylindrical bundles.
"This other..." Simon said, accepting the packages, "... not the arrow, but this..." He handed it back to Binabik. "It's writing by Doctor Morgenes."
"Truthfully?" Binabik skinned back a corner of the rag wrappings. "Things that will help us?"
"I don't think so," Simon said. "It's his life of Prester John. I read some of it—it's mostly about battles and things."
"Ah. Yes." Binabik passed it back over to Simon, who pushed it through his belt. "Too bad, that is. We could use his more specific words at this moment." The troll bent and continued pushing objects into his pack. "Morgenes and Ookequk my master, they were belonging together to a very special group." He scooped something out of his belongings and held it up for Simon to see. It gleamed faintly in the overcast afternoon light, a pendant of a scroll and quill pen.
"Morgenes had one of those!" Simon said, leaning close to look.
"Indeed," Binabik nodded. "This was my master's. It is a sigil belonging to those who join the League of the Scroll. There are, I was told by him, never more than seven members. Your and my masters are dead—there can be no more than five left, now." He snapped his small hand shut on the pendant and dropped it into the sack.
"League of the Scroll?" Simon wondered. "What is it?"
"A group of learned people who share knowledge, I have heard my master saying. Perhaps something more, but he would never tell me." He finished the last of his packing and straightened up. "I am sorry to be saying this, Simon, but I am afraid we must walk again."
"Again?" Aches he had forgotten suddenly flared in Simon's muscles.
"I am afraid it is needed. As I was telling, I have been much in thought. I have thought these things..." He tightened his walking stick at the join and whistled for Qantaqa.
"Firstly, I am bound for getting you to Naglimund. This has not been changed, it was unhappily only my resolution that was slipping. The problem is: I do not trust the Frostmarch. You saw the Bukken—it is likely you would prefer not to see them again. But it is northward we must travel. I am thinking, then, that we must go back to Aldheorte."
"But Binabik, how will we be any safer there? What's to keep those digger-things from coming after us in the forest, where we probably can't even run?"
"A good question to ask. I spoke to you once of the Oldheart—of its age and... and... I cannot think of a word in your language, Simon, but 'soul' and 'spirit' may be giving you an idea.
"The Bukken can pass beneath the old forest, but not easily. There is power in the Aldheorte's roots, power that is not to be lightly broached by... such creatures. Also, there is someone there I must see, someone who must hear the telling of what happened to my master and yours."
Simon was already tired of hearing his own questions, but asked anyway. "Who is that?"
"Her name is Geloe. A wise woman she is, one known as a valada—a Rimmersgard word, that. Also, she can perhaps help us to reach Naglimund, since we will have to be crossing from the forest side on the east over the Wealdhelm, a route that is not known to me."
Simon pulled his cloak on, hooking the worn clasp beneath his chin. "Must we leave today?" he asked. "It's so late in the afternoon."
"Simon," Binabik said as Qantaqa jogged up, tongue lolling, "please believe me. Even though there are things that I cannot yet tell to you, we must be true companions. I need your trust. It is not only the business of Elias' kingship that is at stake. We have lost, both of us, people who we were holding dearly—an old man and an old troll who knew much more than we are knowing. They were both afraid. Brother Dochais, I am thinking, died of fright. Something evil is waking, and we are foolish if we spend more time in open ground."
"What is waking, Binabik? What evil? Dochais said a name—I heard him. Just before he died he said..."
"You need not..." Binabik tried to interrupt, but Simon paid him no heed. He was growing tired of hints and suggestions.
"... Storm King," he finished resolutely.
Binabik looked quickly around, as though he expected something terrible to appear. "I know," he hissed. "I heard, too, but I do not know much." Thunder tolled beyond the distant horizon; the little man looked grim, "The Storm King is a name of dread in the dark north. Simon, a name out of legends to frighten with, to conjure with. All I have are small words my master was giving me sometimes, but it is enough to make me sick with worry." He shouldered his bag and started off across the muddy plain, toward the blunt, crouching line of hills.
"That name," he said, his voice incongruously hushed in the midst of such flat emptiness, "is of itself a thing to wither crops, to bring fevers and bad dreaming..."
"... Rain and bad weather...?" Simon asked, looking up at the ugly, lowering sky.
"And other things," Binabik replied, and touched his palm to his jacket, just above his heart.
The Hounds of Erkynland
SIMON DREAMED that he was walking in the Pine Garden of the Hayholt, just outside the Dining Hall. Above the gently swaying trees hung the stone bridge that connected hall and chapel. Although he felt no sensation of cold—indeed, he was not aware of his body at all except as something to move him from one place to another—gentle flakes of snow were filtering down around him. The fine, needled edges of the trees were beginning to blur beneath blankets of white and all was quiet: the wind, the snow, Simon himself, all moved in a world seemingly without sound or swift motion.
The unfelt wind blew more fiercely now, and the trees of the sheltered garden began to bend before Simon's passage, parting like ocean waves around a submerged stone. The snow flurried, and he moved forward into the opening, into a tree-lined hallway of swirling white. On he went, the trees leaning back before him like respectful soldiers.
The garden was never this long, was it?
Suddenly Simon felt his eyes drawn upward. At the end of the snowy path stood a great white pillar, looming far over his head into the dark skies.
Of course, he thought to himself in dreamy half-logic, it's Green Angel Tower. He could never walk directly from the garden to the base of the tower before, but things had changed since he'd been gone... things had changed.
But if it's the tower, he thought, staring upward at the immense shape, why does it have branches? It's not the tower... or at least it isn't any more... it's a tree—a great white tree...
Simon sat upright, staring.
"What is a tree?" asked Binabik, who sat close by, restitching Simon's shirt with a bird-bone needle. He finished a moment later, and handed it back to the youth, who extended a freckled arm from beneath his sheltering cloak to claim it. "What is a tree, and was your sleeping good?"
"A dream, that's all," Simon said, muffled for a moment as he pulled the shirt over his head. "I dreamed that Green Angel Tower turned into a tree." He looked at Binabik quizzically, but the troll only shrugged.
"A dream," Binabik agreed.
Simon yawned and stretched. It had not been particularly comfortable, sleeping in a protected crevice on the side of a hill, but it was eminently preferable to spending a night unprotected on the plain. He had seen the logic of that quickly enough, once they had gotten moving.
Sunrise had come while he slept, inconspicuous behind the blanket of clouds, just a smear of pinkish gray light across the sky. Looking back from the hillside perch it was difficult to tell where the sky left off and the misty plains began. The world seemed a murky and unformed place this morning.
"I saw fires in the night, while you were sleeping," the troll said, startling Simon out of his reverie.
Binabik pointed with his left hand, southward along the plain. "Back there. Do not be worrying, I think they are a far way off. It is quite the possibility they have nothing to do with us."
"I suppose so." Simon squinted into the gray distance. "Do you think it might be Isgrimnur and his Rimmersgarders?"
"It is doubtful."
Simon turned to look at the little man. "But you said they would get away! That they'd survive...."
The troll gave him an exasperated look. "If you would wait, you would hear. I am sure they survived, but they were traveling north, and I am doubting they would turn back. Those fires were farther toward south, as though..."
"... As though they were traveling up from Erkynland," Simon finished.
"Yes!" Binabik said, a little testily. "But it could be they are traders, or pilgrims..." He looked around. "Where has Qantaqa now gone to?"
Simon grimaced. He knew a dodge when he saw one. "Very well. It could be anything... but you were the one counseling speed yesterday. Are we to wait so we can see first hand if these are merchants or... or diggers?" The joke felt more than a little sour. The last word had not tasted good in his mouth.
"Not being stupid is important," Binabik grunted in disgust. "Boghanik—the Bukken—light no fires. They hate things that are bright. And no, we will not be waiting for these fire builders to reach us. We are heading back to the forest, as I was telling you." He gestured back over his head. "On the hill's far side we will be within sight of it."
The brush crackled behind them, and troll and boy jumped in surprise. It was only Qantaqa, traversing erratically down the hillside, nose held tight to the ground. When she reached their campsite, she butted Binabik's arm until he scratched her head. "Qantaqa has a cheerful mood, hmmm?" The troll smiled, showing his yellow teeth. "Since we have the advantage of a day with heavy clouds, which will be covering the smoke of a campfire, I am thinking we can at least have a decent meal before we again take to our feet. Are you in favor?"
Simon tried to make his expression a serious one. "I... suppose I could eat something... if I must," he said. "If you really think it's important..."
Binabik stared, trying to decide if Simon actually disapproved of breakfast, and the boy felt laughter trying to bubble free.
Why am I acting like a mooncalf? he wondered. We're in terrible danger, and it won't get any better soon.
Binabik's puzzled look was finally too much, and the laughter burst forth.
Well, he answered himself, a person can't worry all the time.
Simon sighed, contented, and allowed Qantaqa to take the few remaining bits of squirrel meat from his fingers. He marveled at the delicacy the wolf could exhibit with those great jaws and gleaming teeth.
The fire was a small one, since the troll did not believe in unnecessary risks. A thin stream of smoke curled sinuously in the wind sliding along the hillside.
Binabik was reading Morgenes' manuscript, which he had unwrapped with Simon's permission. "It is my hope you understand," the troll said without looking up, "that you will not be trying that with any other wolf beside my friend Qantaqa."
"Of course not. It's amazing how tame she is."
"Not tame." Binabik was emphatic. "She has a bond of honor with me, and it is including those who are my friends."
"Honor?" Simon asked lazily.
"I am sure you know that term, much as it is bandied about in southern lands. Honor. Are you thinking such a thing cannot exist between troll and beast?" Binabik glanced over, then went back to leafing through the manuscript.
"Oh, I don't think much about anything these days," Simon said airily, leaning forward to scratch Qantaqa's deep-furred chin. "I'm just trying to keep my head down and reach Naglimund."
"You are making a gross evasion," Binabik muttered, but did not pursue the subject. For a while there was no sound on the hillside but the riming of parchment. The morning sun climbed up through the sky.
"Here," Binabik said at last, "listen, now. Ah, Daughter of the Mountains, but I am missing Morgenes more just from reading his words. Do you know of Nearulagh, Simon?"
"Certainly. Where King John beat the Nabbanai. There's a gate at the castle all covered with carvings of it."
"You are right. So then, here Morgenes is writing of the Battle of Nearulagh, where John was first meeting the famous Sir Camaris. May I read to you?"
Simon suppressed a twinge of jealousy. The doctor had not intended that his manuscript be for Simon and no one else, he reminded himself.
"'... So after Ardrivis'decision—a brave one. some said, arrogant said others—to meet this upstart northern king in the flat plain of the Meadow Thrithing before Lake Myrme, proved a disaster. Ardrivis pulled the bulk of his troops back into the Onestrine Pass, a narrow way between the mountain lakes Eadne and Clodu...'"
"What Morgenes speaks of," Binabik explained, "is that Ardrivis, the Imperator of Nabban, did not believe Prester John could come against him with great force, so far from Erkynland. But the Perdruinese islanders, who were always being in the Nabbanai shadow, made secret treaty with John and helped to supply his forces. King John cut Ardrivis' legions in ribbons near the Meadow Thrithing, a thing unsuspected as possible by the proud Nabbanai. Do you see?"
"I think so." Simon was not sure, but he had heard enough ballads about Nearulagh to recognize most of the names. "Read some more."
"I shall do so. Let me only be finding the part I wanted to read for you..." He scanned down the page. "Ho!"
"'... And so, as the sun sank behind Mount Onestris, the last sun for eight thousand dead and dying men, young Camaris, whose father Benidrivis-sd Vinitta had taken the Imperator's Staff from his dying brother Ardrivis only an hour before, led a charge of five hundred horse, the remainder of the Imperial Guard, in quest of vengeance...' "
"Binabik?" Simon interrupted.
"Who took what from which?"
Binabik laughed. "Forgive me. It is a net full of names to capture at once, is it not? Ardrivis was the last Imperator of Nabban, although his empire was no larger, you are seeing, than what is the duchy of Nabban today. Ardrivis fell out with Prester John, likely because Ardrivis knew that John had designs on a united Osten Ard, and that eventually there would have to be conflict. In any way, I will not bore you with all the fighting, but this was their last battle, as you know. Ardrivis the Imperator was killed by an arrow, and his brother Benidrivis became the new Imperator... for the rest of that day, only, ending with Nabban's surrendering. Camaris was the son of Benidrivis—and being young, too, perhaps fifteen years—and so for that afternoon he was the last prince of Nabban, as songs are sometimes calling him... understood, now?"
"Better. It was all those 'arises' and 'ivises' that left me behind for a moment." Binabik picked up the parchment and continued reading.
" 'Now, with the coming of Camaris onto the field, the tired armies of Erkynland were much distraught. The young prince's troops were not fresh, but Camaris himself was a whirlwind, a storm of death, and the sword Thorn that his dying uncle had given him was like a fork of dark lightning. Even at that late moment, the records say, the forces of Erkynland might have been routed, but Prester John came onto the field, Bright-Nail clutched in his gauntleted fist, and cut a path through the Nabbanai Imperial Guard until he was face to face with the gallant Camaris.'"
"This is the part I wanted you especially to hear," Binabik said as he leafed forward to the next sheet.
"This is very good," Simon said. "Will Prester John cleave him in twain?"
"Ridiculous!" snorted the troll. "How, then, would they come to be the fastest and most famous of friends?—'cleave him in twain'!" He resumed.
" 'The ballads say that they fought all day and into the night, but I doubt greatly that was so. Certainly they fought a long while, but doubtless the twilight and darkness had nearly arrived anyway, and it only seemed to some of the tired observers that these two great men had battled all the day long..."
"What thinking your Morgenes does!" Binabik chortled.
" 'Whatever the truth, they traded blow after blow, clanging and hammering on each other's armor as the sun sank and the ravens fed. Neither man could gain an upper hand, even though Camaris' guard had long since been defeated by John's troop. Still, none of the Erkynlanders dared to interfere.
'By chance at last, Camaris' horse stepped in a hole, breaking its leg, and fell with a great scream, trapping the prince beneath it. John could have ended it there, and few would have blamed him, but instead—observers uniformly swear—he helped the fallen knight of Nabban out from under his steed, gave him back his sword, and when Camaris proved sound, continued the fight.'"
"Aedon!" breathed Simon, impressed. He had heard the story, of course, but it was a different thing entirely to hear it confirmed in the doctor's wry, confident words.
" 'So they struggled on and on until Prester John—who was, after all, over twenty years Camaris' senior—grew weary and stumbled, falling to the ground at the feet of the Prince of Nobban.'
'Camaris, moved by the power and honor of his opponent, forewent slaying him and instead held Thorn at John's gorget and asked him to promise to leave Nabban in peace. John, who had not expected his mercy to be repaid in kind, looked around at the field of Nearulagh, empty but for his own troops, thought for a moment, and then kicked Camaris-sa-Vinitta in the fork of his legs.'"
"No!" said Simon, taken aback; Qantaqa raised a sleepy head at the exclamation. Binabik only grinned and continued to read from Morgenes' writings.
" 'John then stood in his turn over the sorely wounded Camaris, and told him: "You have many lessons to learn, but you are a brave and noble man, I will do your father and family every courtesy, and take good care of your people. I hope in turn you will learn the first lesson, the one I have given you today, and that is this: Honor is a wonderful thing, but it is a means, not an end. A man who starves with honor does not help his family, a king who falls on his sword with honor does not save his kingdom. "